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Preparing teachers to deliver high-quality reading instruction

Friday, October 2, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Amy Seasholtz
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By Nancy Scharff | Sep 25, 2015

Teaching reading is rocket science! And Philadelphia’s citywide campaign to get all 4th graders reading at grade level, READ! by 4th, is committed to delivering that "rocket science" preparation for our city’s teachers. The campaign is working in partnership with the School District of Philadelphia to meet this major challenge.

This past summer, with support from the William Penn and Lenfest Foundations, the District embarked on a three-year effort to ensure that all K-3 teachers have access to the highest-quality professional development and instructional materials – the knowledge and materials needed to help students become proficient readers and writers. More than 500 teachers and principals participated in a weeklong literacy institute designed to support them in implementing evidence-based literacy instruction. Teacher feedback was strongly positive.

But the summer literacy institutes are only a first step. To ensure that teachers arrive in schools fully prepared, we need to enhance the quality and content of the preparation in literacy instruction that teacher education programs offer. 

The READ! by 4th campaign is reaching out to area schools of education to help them provide teachers-in-training with deep knowledge of evidence-based instructional methods – the knowledge that embodies the rocket science needed to promote early literacy. That challenge is the topic of an upcoming workshop.

The campaign is inviting area schools of education to learn about and consider accreditation under the standards developed by the Center for Effective Reading Instruction (CERI), an offshoot of the International Dyslexia Association. On its website, CERI says it reviews and accredits university programs to ensure that “teachers-in-training are exposed to an in-depth and rigorous curriculum in structured literacy.”

Knowledge and practice standards

CERI’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading spell out the needed rigorous course content, as well as specific teaching competencies. Newly certified teachers need deep knowledge of reading development and the component skills, as well as proficiency in teaching that content. State standards address student outcomes, but they do not address the knowledge and skills that teachers need to support students in achieving those outcomes. 

CERI’s standards are the basis for their credentialing activities with both universities and independent teacher training programs. Today, nationwide, there are 16 accredited university and independent programs. The only such program in Pennsylvania is a graduate program within the special education department at St. Joseph’s University. Additional Pennsylvania schools of education are now pursuing CERI accreditation for specific programs.

READ! by 4th is hosting a workshop on Oct. 5 with experts from the field to introduce these standards to more Philadelphia-area schools of education. One of these experts, Cathy Spinelli of St. Joseph’s, will discuss her university’s innovative, CERI-accredited program, known as the Urban Teaching Residency (UTR). 

Fully funded in its first year by the Philadelphia School Partnership, UTR provides supervision for its graduate students for an entire school year in a high-needs school with quality literacy instruction in place. In this first year of the UTR, six graduate students are working in two KIPP schools – KIPP Philadelphia Elementary Academy and KIPP Philadelphia Charter School. They also are studying social justice, poverty and racism.

A unique opportunity for Philadelphia

Strengthening teacher preparation is a nationwide priority, and Philadelphia is in a truly unique position to make it a reality. Most of the critical pieces are in place. 

Thanks to READ! by 4th, Philadelphia is already focused on the need to better support teachers. Beginning with its summer institutes, the District has embarked upon three years of intensive, in-service professional development and has further indicated strong interest in hiring new teachers with deep knowledge in research-proven instructional practices. The St. Joseph's program can act as a model for other schools of education pursuing CERI accreditation. Moreover, there is demonstrated philanthropic interest.

The Oct. 5 workshop is an important opportunity for all interested schools of education to learn about the CERI standards. The workshop will include welcome remarks by Superintendent William Hite; opening remarks by Keith Magee, international social justice scholar, activist, and educator; an overview of the standards and the accreditation process by Liz Liptak, CERI’s director of professional development; and a panel of experts.

Philadelphia teachers deserve our collective support in meeting the challenge of READ! by 4th. Partners of READ! by 4th, schools hiring new teachers, and members of the philanthropic community are encouraged to attend. Please learn more and join the movement. 


Register to attend the workshop on Oct. 5.

Nancy Scharff, M.Ed. Special Education, is a READ! by 4th instructional strategies consultant; a board member of KIPP Philadelphia Schools; and a former executive director and current board member of